THE ADVENTURES OF PRIVATES MACEY N. GIMBELS AND HIS PARD
CHAPTER V - The Pards attend a Dress Parade and are falsely accused.
by Mal Stylo and Jonah Begone - Illustrated by Paul Rogers
Our heroes Privates Gimbels and Stark, in supine positions under the lone tree at a mega-event site, were discussing the future of reenacting when the "125th's" ended. Suddenly, the air exploded with drums beating out the "long roll." "Ah," said Pvt. Gimbels, "that's the air exploding with the long roll, if I am not mistaken!"
Pvt. Gimbels was not mistaken. He owed his acute military knowledge to the fact that as a former NCO - and one upon whose shoulders officer's straps had once perched - he had attended the Fashionable Army Regiment, Theatrical Reserves' (FARTR) rip-off NCO and Officer's "School." For only $20 for a two-day session, Pvt. Gimbels had feasted on stale pastry (which earned the school the nickname "Bearclaws Academy") and flat sodas and had learned to recognize the "long roll." He had also been told that his uniform and equipment were all doo-doo and would be confiscated and burned unless replaced post-haste with more expensive (and therefore more authentic) stuff, and had learned the celebrated "Zouave Bayonet Drill."
The Thirty-Third had not used the Zouave Bayonet Drill to bayonet any Zouaves yet, and probably would only use it as a method to help chip away the ice that formed when Hell froze over. Nevertheless, Pvt. Gimbels had kept his Zouave Bayonet skills sharp at several nightclubs; leaping and parrying "en trice" to the beat of local dance bands. The skills he had honed had made him the Disco Dance Champion of the entire state. As he "leaped to the rear" on the dance floor to the pulsating strains of "Disco Inferno," he often told himself: "Maryland Disco Dance Champion today - the star of Urban Cowboy II tomorrow!"
With polished effort acquired by responding to many a Long Roll, the boys donned their traps and at glacier-like speed, rushed over to the spot where Company Q was falling in. Sergeant Pil Drilsome fixed them with a withering stare and made some furtive notes in his totally-purriod little black roster book. The page upon which he scrawled contained cryptic entries like "$50 on the nose, Baltimore Plug, in the fifth at Pimlico," "Trixie - ****! Hubba, hubba," several 976- numbers and "Privates Stark and Gimbels: Permanent Guard Duty, forever!!!!!!!"
The FARTR's various sub-units formed a mighty host as they lined up, facing "Officer's Row" in preparation for dress parade. Pvt. Gimbels' roving gaze rested on the headquarters tent of the FARTR's commanding officer (sometimes a colonel, and sometimes something else depending upon the requirements of the event and personal whim), and he watched for that august officer to appear.
Actually, to call the "command tent" a tent was to do great injustice to this imposing edifice. True, the FARTR had once used canvas structures for this purpose, but as the organization had increased in stature and size the command structure had grown accordingly. It was now a 1/50-scale replica of the Acropolis made of imported Greek marble, and was capable of being assembled by 100 men in only 5 days! Standard bearers stood nearby, each clad in full dress Federal Infantry uniforms with the addition of burnished bronze breastplates and plumed helmets. They zealously clutched the imperial purple guidons of the FARTR.
At last, to the blare of trumpets, the Colonel appeared. Tailored in an immaculate Federal officer's uniform with a countenance as the midday sun, he strode from the Acropolis to the center of the formation with a proud and measured step. Lieutenants strewed rose petals before him and NCO's waved palm fronds in his wake. The Adjutant bellowed "Music: beat off!" (which provoked the usual sophomoric snickers from the troops) and the FARTR Command Structure Choir burst into the "Hallelujah Chorus." Gimbels and Stark yawned appreciatively.
Just then a piece of hardtack inscribed a graceful arc through the air, nicked the ear of one of the FARTR staff officers (who instantly cast a withering glance in the direction of Company Q) and landed smack into the rear of the colonel's head. The impact caused his $75 officer kepi to fall into the muddy rose petals. A horrified gasp issued from every mouth.
"WHO THREW THAT?" was the question that fairly thundered from the colonel's mouth. The injured FARTR staff officer, clutching a profusely bleeding ear as red as his hair, pointed at the now prostrate-with-laughter Pvt. Gimbels and Stark. "BRING THEM TO ME!" Our heroes were consequently hustled and dragged into The Presence by the muscular loin-clothed Headquarters Guard.
The colonel was not very tall, and while the aggressive moustache he wore gave him a semblance of nineteenth-century style his overall wanna-be military bearing was largely ruined by the flower petal-covered kepi which he proceeded to replace on his head. He glared mightily at Pvts. Gimbels and Stark, who were standing at mirthful attention before him.
"DID YOU THROW THIS?" he asked, holding up the piece of hardtack he had retrieved from the back of his head. Using all the willpower he had most lately employed in keeping from giggling endlessly at the Confederates during the recent reenactment of the surrender at Appomattox, Pvt. Stark held back the sniggers and replied "No. I think it came from a third party. An onlooker or sumpthin'. Maybe a civilian. Yeah, that's it, a civilian!" "It musta been!" seconded Pvt. Gimbels, helpfully (Pards have to stick together after all).
The Pards were stuck together as file closers in the 15th New Joisey, a P.U. (Persons Unorganized) unit which had gracefully allowed them to finish the event after the FARTRs had decreed their disgraceful exile. As far as the P.U. men were concerned, however (and despite the fact that Gimbels and Stark had not thrown the hardtack), the Pards were cult figures. They didn't correct anyone on how the incident actually happened, either; hitting two FARTR officers at 100 paces in the middle of a parade formation was no mean feat.
The initial blast of feedback and the sporting announcement of "...and there they go!" from the battle narrator's 12,000 watt PA system signalled the beginning of the reenacted battle. Since the last minute boycott by the FARTR leadership had failed to muster the needed support from the rank and file who attended anyway (with the FARTR Officer Cadre grudgingly following in their wake), the event sponsors gave the more cooperative P.U.'s the honor of the opening attack. Thus Pvt. Gimbels and Stark were in the vanguard, the thick of the fight.
The men in the FARTR units held in semi-permanent reserve on the top of the hill could see that the action was fast and furious in the Pards' company. In fact, Pvt. Gimbels was firing so quickly that early on he had to borrow cartridges from Pvt. Stark, who always brought enough for a small Central American war. Soon, however, an odd thing happened. As more and more of the men in the company had run out of cartridges (and were in turn forced to borrow them from Pvt. Stark), the sound of the company's volleys began to resemble a man blowing enormous puffs of air from his mouth. PPFFFTTTTTT! PPFFTTT! PPFFFFIITTT! PFFFFFFFTTTTTTT! The men in the company regarded each other with quizzical expressions, but kept firing. (Unknown to them was the fact that Pvt. Stark - having difficulty finding sure 'nuff 3Fg black powder in the rather Yuppie county in which he lived - simply substituted the more easily obtained modern smokeless Pyrodex for black powder. "Who'll know?" he reasoned.)
The PFFFTT! sound so unnerved the opposing Confederate units that even though they were scheduled to win in that day's action, the badly shaken company turned tail and ran. (Years later, legends would form around Rebel campfires about the terrible Yankee company whose vollies sounded like a Beast from Hell breaking wind. "Old Windy" thus joined the ranks of Confederate folklore along with "Old Mr. Cholesterol," "Old Mr. Diarrhea," "Old Mr. Shortness of Breath," "Old Mr. Scab that'll Never Heal" and other bogeymen formed of ignorance of enlightened hygiene and dietary practices.)
"Whoa - lookit that! It appears that the guys in gray are running away, what they used to call 'skedaddling'! Ah wonder why?" the announcer announced helpfully. Since the volume from the 12,000 watt PA easily overpowered the sound of gunfire on the battlefield, everybody - participants and spectators alike - were able to hear this shrewd assessment of the tactical situation. Wondering what was going on and becoming panicky in the absence of communication with the Confederate high command, the various other companies followed suit and retreated also. Very quickly, the retreat became a rout and soon was general throughout the Rebel Army (despite that fact that they outnumbered the Federal troops on the field 6-to-1, as usual).
A mighty "Huzzah!" issued forth from the now emboldened Federal reenactors, who swept the field clear of Confederates in One Gallant Rush. The action occurred so quickly that the FARTR units never had the time to be deployed into action and were therefore left in position at the top of the hill, viewing everything. Most had admitted that the rout was magnificent, and wished they could have taken part in the only convincing Federal victory in Civil War reenacting. The Pards later confirmed this opinion, claiming in later campfire conversations that the battle was "...grand, simply magnificent! If you weren't there you missed the best reenactment of all time!" This annoyed their comrades immensely.